Film Review: The Maggie (1954) directed by Alexander Mackendrick


As part of the British Film Institute- BFI’s Britain on Film Project (, the Maggie, (1954), one of the most endearing comedies made by Ealing Studios, has been digitized and re-released online and on DVD.

It is a satirical tale of a canny Scottish sea dog captain, outwitting a smart American businessman, a retelling of “David vs Goliath” legend. At the time of the film release, the story highlighted the underlying sense of unease at the emergence of America as a dominant player after the Second World War.


To portray the growing fear of the power of the mighty dollar as it towered over Europe, Ealing Studios produced this comical gem. There are several compelling reasons why a medical student or a healthcare professional should watch this film, and these reasons can be figured out come the end credits. Not least of all are the strong themes of loyalty and teamwork that cultivate compassion and caring in us all.


The Maggie is an old run down steam driven cargo boat, on her last legs also serving as an allegorical symbol of tradition struggling to cope with the demands of modernization and the post war world. The wily Captain Mactaggart (Alex Mackenzie) needs £300 to renew his license, and craftily capitalizes on an unexpected turn of fate to deliver an expensive cargo owned by American transport Tycoon Calvin B Marshall (Paul Douglas), to Marshall’s new holiday home in the Scottish Isles.


When Marshall discovers he’s been tricked into hiring a clapped out old boat, putting his precious goods at risk, he tracks down the Maggie to retrieve his cargo, and a battle of wits between the Captain and Marshall ensues. The contrast in characters and personalities is presented in a humorous narrative when Marshall finds himself a fish out of water at ceilidh in the Scottish Isles.


The supporting characters are rough and ready; the two shipmates and a loyal cabin boy, juxtaposed to Marshall’s bumbling suited business colleagues, make for an engaging storyline with witty banter. There are few women in the storyline; the captain’s estranged sister and a young woman the boat crew meet on the way are less well characterized, but serve the purpose of giving some of the film’s messages of “always be loyal to your family and friends, and believe that money does not always guarantee happiness”.


Without the distraction of special effects, which is today’s must in “multiplex cinemas” the film has a great humane atmosphere, an original story and a strong moral core. Under the surface of his problems with the Captain’s continuing skullduggery, Calvin Marshall’s life is not as shiny as its exterior; his marriage is strained and it is clear that he is not even at peace or happy in his flourishing entrepreneurial world.


His interest in material possessions (the cargo) and neglect of the important things in life like nurturing a loving family is a timely reminder of the fine balance that healthcare professionals need to maintain between work and life, and how they should think about protecting themselves from the “burn-out” syndrome. For medical students and qualified doctors too, lessons in ‘mentoring and apprenticeship’ can be seen in the intricate relationship between Captain Mactaggart and the cabin boy.


Calvin Marshall learns some facts in life from the young girl Sheena he meets en route, she explains her choice of a suitor: “When we’re very old, only what we (she and her husband) were able to make together ourselves will last, and that will be all we need”. Life is giving Marshall a free lesson in humanity, and the same can be said of the humane compassionate approach that doctors can and should adopt towards patients. Many conversations doctors have with patients are about seminal passages in patients’ lives; end of life perhaps or life changing decisions about surgeries, this film slows the pace down for the ‘conversation partners’ and asks the viewer to reflect on “What are your priorities?”.


The material world embodied by Marshall is contrasted astutely with Captain Mactaggart’s world of human need for love, family and friends. The film ends with appreciation of both sides of the coin. The businessman leaves the boat a more considerate, compassionate person aware of the needs of those around him, and The Maggie joins the fleet of Calvin B Marshall transport boats, saved from extinction.



“The Maggie” 1954, a classic film from the Archives

Directed by Alexander Mackendrick

Released on DVD on 24th August 2015

Available to buy on EST on 24th August 2015

Address for correspondence: Sarah West, film maker


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